An elite New England boarding school encouraged a star athlete to bake and deliver cinnamon bread to another student he groped — which caused the girl stress and shame as she questioned her decision not to report the sexual assault to police.
Phillips Exeter Academy officials urged the teen to accept her molester’s “act of penance” rather than tell authorities that track star Chukwudi Ikpeazu had reached under her clothes and grabbed her breasts and buttocks without her consent, reported the Boston Globe.
“I was so ashamed of it,” said the student, Michaella Henry. “I was being reminded once a week that he assaulted me.”
The 17-year-old told the newspaper that she consulted her advisor in October and then met with A.J. Cosgrove, dean of residential life, and Melissa Mischke, dean of students, after a friend told her that Ikpeazu had also groped her in the basement of the Phillips Church.
The meetings came a little more than a month after Exeter’s new school leader, Lisa MacFarlane, addressed parent concerns about the felony sexual assault conviction of Owen Labrie, a student at another elite boarding school.
MacFarlane promised to address the issue of consent and sexual assault after an Exeter alumnus published a blog post accusing the school’s deans of ignoring sex assaults on campus.
Henry said she wasn’t convinced after meeting with the deans that school officials were committed to protecting her and other students.
Cosgrove, the dean of residential life, assured her toward the end of their meeting that “the good news is you don’t have to report this to the police because there was no penetration.”
School officials determined Ikpeazu had sexually harassed Henry, who had been a casual friend, but did not sexually assault her — which would have required a police report under the school’s student handbook.
Henry met in December with Rev. Robert Thompson, the school’s minister for nearly 30 years, and Ikpeazu at the church where he’d groped her two months earlier.
“I worked so hard, harder than I should have in my advisor’s opinion to make sure that this wouldn’t blow up, that the police wouldn’t have to get involved,” Henry told the minister and her assailant.
The minister asked the teen what she wanted from Ikpeazu, and she joked about the monkey bread the athlete, who everyone called “Chudi,” was known for baking.
So that’s what Thompson arranged.
“I thought you would be amused to learn that Michaella extracted an act of penance from Chudi,” Thompson wrote in an email to Henry’s advisor. “Young Mr. Ikpeazu agreed to the penance without much resistance.”
But the arrangement bothered Henry, and apparently Ikpeazu didn’t like it, either, because he eventually stopped the weekly deliveries.
Henry’s mother was furious, but she was afraid to speak out in fear of jeopardizing her daughter’s position at the elite school.
“I was beside myself, but I didn’t want Exeter to retaliate against her either,” Andrea Henry said. “You don’t know what to do. My child was in their care. I was worried about her life.”
Mischke, the dean of students, later criticized the arrangement, which she said was needlessly traumatic and accomplished nothing.
Thompson expressed his support in April for a former Exeter teacher who admitted to sexual relationships with two students decades earlier, but school officials forced him to resign and kept quiet about his misconduct.
The school then fired a teacher two weeks later who confessed to sexual encounters with a student years earlier.
Ikpeazu was featured April 21 in the student newspaper as the school’s “athlete of the year,” and Rosanna Salcedo, dean of multicultural affairs, asked Henry to stop telling other students she had been sexually assaulted.
Salcedo convinced the teen to meet with the school’s investigator, who found that Ikpeazu had violated school policies on sexual harassment and sexual misconduct.
School officials then required Henry and Ikpeazue to sign a no-contact order and threatened both students with expulsion if they violated it.
She decided then to report the assault to Exeter police, and she met May 4 with a victim’s advocate.
Ikpeazu, who had planned to attend the University of Pennsylvania, was arrested June 3 on a misdemeanor sexual assault charge and skipped graduation two days later, after he was released on his own recognizance.
He will be arraigned in August.